Elevated Cancer Risk for those in Michigan Living near Unlined Coal Ash Dumps

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A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice finds that Michigan residents living near unlined coal ash dumps have a 1-in-50 chance of getting cancer from their drinking water.

Unlined ash dumps can be found in Ingham, Marquette, Monroe, and Ottawa counties. Of the seven sites in Michigan, only three have groundwater monitoring. The plants are operated by major energy producers in Michigan, including Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.

The problem can be traced to the United States reliance on coal-fired power plants. Each year, such plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic ash in more than 200 landfills and wet ponds. The practice gained national attention in December of 2008 when one such disposal site burst in Kingston, Tennessee. Coal ash can be responsible for pollutants including arsenic, lead, selenium, boron, cadmium, and cobalt.

The analysis is based on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data collected by the government. Under the Bush administration, the data was largely kept from public release as the administration dragged its feet. The report cautions that the actual number of polluted sites may be significantly greater than what the EPA is reporting.

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Headlines: Obama Won’t Prosecute Bush and CIA Officials for Torture; EPA: Greenhouse Gasses Endanger Human Health and Welfare

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Won't Prosecute Bush and CIA Officials for Torture; EPA: Greenhouse Gasses Endanger Human Health and Welfare

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

CIA Used Waterboarding 266 Times

A footnote in one of the newly declassified torture memos has revealed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding far more than had been previously reported. In August 2002, the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, 83 times. The CIA also used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. In 2007 a former C.I.A. officer publicly claimed that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.

Rahm Emanuel: Bush Officials, CIA Interrogators Will Not Be Prosecuted

Meanwhile on Sunday, White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the Obama administration opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture as well Bush administration officials who authorized the use of torture. Rahm made the comment in an interview on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

Rahm Emmanuel: He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted.

George Stephanopolous: What about those who devised policy?

Rahm Emmanuel: Yes, but those who devised policy, he believes that they were–should not be prosecuted either, and that’s not the place that we go–as he said in that letter, and I would really recommend people look at the full statement–not the letter, the statement–in that second paragraph, “this is not a time for retribution.” It’s time for reflection. It’s not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back and any sense of anger and retribution.

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Says Obama Violating International Law

The UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak has said President Obama is in violation of international law for declining to prosecute CIA agents who used torture. Nowak said the US is bound by the UN Convention Against Torture, which requires prosecution in all cases in which there is evidence of torture.

Spanish Judge Garzon Keeps Alive Case Against “Bush Six”

Prosecution of Bush administration officials may still take place in Spain. On Friday, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon defied Spanish prosecutors and kept alive a criminal investigation into the actions of six high-ranking Bush admininistration officials including former attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee.

Calls Increase For Bybee’s Impeachment

This comes as calls are increasing for Bybee’s impeachment as a federal judge. During an interview on Fox News Sunday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioned whether Bybee should be serving on the federal bench after approving the use of torture.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO): “What’s scary to me, Chris, is that one of them got a lifetime appointment on a federal bench. Yikes! You know, a lawyer that’s responsible for this kind of advice that clearly went too far in terms of stretching what our law is. It worries me that he’s sitting on the federal bench right now.”

More Nations Boycott UN Conference on Racism

The United Nations Conference on Racism has opened Geneva but the United States and several other nations are boycotting the conference over concerns the conference will criticize Israel. In 2001 the U.S. and Israel walked out of the UN racism conference in South Africa after Arab states sought to define Zionism as racist. During his opening talke, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia needs to be tackled. We’ll have more on the conference after headlines.

Chavez Gives Obama Eduardo Galeano Book on History of Latin America

President Obama has returned to Washington after attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago where he vowed to repair relations with Latin America. At the summit Obama briefly met with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez who gave Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s book “The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.” At a news conference on Sunday Obama responded to criticism of him for shaking Chavez’s hand.

President Obama: “It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States. I don’t think anyone can find any evidence that that would do so. Even within this imaginative crowd, I think you would be hard-pressed to paint a scenario in which U.S. interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela.”

Obama Says 50 Year U.S. Policy Toward Cuba Has Failed

On Cuba, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. policy of the past 50 years has failed. Obama’s comment came days after he eased travel restrictions on Cuban Americans. On Sunday he called on Cuban President Raul Castro to take some steps if he wants to start a dialogue with the United States

President Obama: “And the fact that you had Raul Castro say that he is willing to have his government discuss with our not just issues of lifting the embargo but issues of human rights, political prisoner, that’s a sign of progress. And so we’re going to explore and see if we can make some further steps. There are some things that the Cuban government could do. They could release political prisoners.”

Iran Sentences U.S. Journalist to Eight Years

A secret Iranian court has sentenced Iranian-American journalist, Roxana Saberi, to eight years in prison for allegedly spying for the United States. Saberi had worked as a freelancer for the BBC, NPR and other outlets. Her father Reza Saberi spoke to NPR on Saturday.

Reza Saberi: “She is very weak and frail, last time we saw…and she wanted to go on hunger strike but we persuaded her not to do so. And after this most probably she will, even though when we visit her we will ask her not to do so. But she is quite depressed about this matter and she wants to go on hunger strike. And if she does she’s so frail it can be dangerous to her health.”

The Obama administration has demanded Saberi be released. On Sunday Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to Tehran’s chief prosecutor instructing him to personally ensure that Saberi be allowed to offer a full defense during her appeal.

U.S. Drone Attack in Pakistan Leaves 8 Dead

U.S. drones have carried out another strike inside Pakistan killing as many as eight people in the Waziristan region. The News in Pakistan said all of the dead were civilians. However other reports said the strike targeted a home used by Al Qaeda.

Israeli Troops Kill Unarmed Palestinian Protesting Wall

Israeli forces have killed another unarmed Palestinian during a protest against the Israel separation wall in the West Bank. 30-year-old Basim Abu Rahmah died Friday after he was shot with a high velocity tear gas canister. Abu Rahma is the third Palestinian to be killed in the past three months alone during protests against the Wall.

Congressional Quarterly: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC

Congressional Quarterly is reporting Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California was overheard in 2005 on an NSA wiretap speaking with a suspected Israeli agent. During the call Harman reprotedly said she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections. The conversation is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA wiretap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington. Congressional Quarterly reports then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales decided to stop a probe of Harman because he wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s secret domestic spy program that the New York Times was about to expose.

35,000 Civilians Flee as Sri Lankan Military Intensifies Assault on Tamil Tigers

In Sri Lanka, more than 35,000 civilians have fled the last area controlled by the Tamil Tigers as the Sri Lankan military intensifies its assault on the separatist group. The United Nations says up to 100,000 civilians are trapped in the sliver of coastal jungle controlled by the Tamil Tigers and are living in “dire humanitarian conditions.” Channel 4 in Britian and Al Jazereera have aired some footage from the area that has been closed off to journalists. The video, which was shot by an aid group, showed scores of civilian victims killed last week in fighting. An estimated 4,500 civilians have been killed in Sri Lanka in the last three months.

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Endanger Human Health and Welfare

The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare, opening the door for the EPA to to possibly regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The EPA found that rising levels of greenhouse gases are “the unambiguous result of human emissions, and are very likely the cause of the observed increase in average temperatures and other climatic changes.”

Bloomberg Sues Fed Reserve

In economic news, Bloomberg News has filed a lawsuit to force the Federal Reserve to disclose information about the $2 trillion it has lent to financial institutions. The Fed has refused to name the borrowers or the amounts of loans. The biggest recipients of taxpayer aid made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February than in October. Goldman Sachs reduced lending by 50 percent.

London Police Questioned in Man’s Death During G20 Protest

In news from Britain, A London Police officer is being questioned on suspicion of manslaughter following the death of a British man during the G20 protests. An autopsy has found Ian Tomlinson died from internal bleeding, not a heart attack. Tomlinson was a newspaper seller who got caught up in the middle of the G20 protest. Video has emerged showing a baton-wielding British police officer hitting Tomlinson and shoving him to the ground shortly before he collapsed and died. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also investigating at least two other assaults committed by the police during the protest.

Swedish Court Sentences Founders of File-Sharing Website

A Swedish court has sentenced the four founders of the file-sharing website Pirate Bay to one year in prison and to pay a $3.5 million fine for violating copyright laws. The men were convicted even though they did not host copyrighted works on their own servers. Instead the site indexed and tracked torrent files. Attorney Per Samuelson represented the founders of Pirate Bay.

Per Samuelson: “My comment is that the Swedish legal system did not stand against the political pressure from the whole of the world, from the whole of the power and it’s very hard for them to acquit, but they should have done that, so this is the proof that the legal system doesn’t work when you put enough pressure on it.”

Time Warner Scraps Pricing Model to Charge for Bandwidth

In other tech news, Time Warner Cable has announced it will stop testing a new pricing model where customers were being charged for how much Internet bandwidth they used. Time Warner had proposed charging as much as $150 per month for unlimited web downloads.

Goldman Environmental Prizes Awarded

The 2009 Goldman Environmental Prizes are being awarded today in San Francisco. Recipients include the Indonesian activist Yuyun Isamawati who developed a community-based waste management system to stem her island nation’s overwhelming waste infrastructure problems. I spoke to her last week in San Francisco.

Yuyun Isamawati: “We need more efforts from all countries. But it has to be a better mechanism how developed countries can channel support to developing countries to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. [Inaudible] mechanisms should be reformed because the complicated and difficult mechanism cannot be implemented in the field to reach the target of reduction.”

The other recipients of the Goldman prize are West Virginian anti-coal mining activist Maria Gunnoe; the Russian physicist Olga Speranskaya who is campaigning to rid the former Soviet Union of toxic chemicals; the Bangladesh environmental attorney Rizwana Hasan; two anti-logging activists from the South American nation of Suriname and; conservationist Marc Ona Essangui from the African nation of Gabon.

Marc Ona Essangui: “The forest that we are defending in Gabon isn’t only for Gabon-it’s in the interest of the entire planet. Climate change, the destruction of the ozone layer-it’s not only about Gabon, it’s about the planet. A tree that is saved in Gabon will in the future save many lives in many countries.”

Vigils Mark 10th Anniversary of Columbine Massacre

And in Colorado, hundreds attended a vigil Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School when two students killed 12 students and a teacher.

West Michigan School 1 of 62 to be Monitored by EPA for Air Quality

School Pollution Investigation

It doesn’t seem like Michigan gets much positive coverage in the national press. Lately, we’ve seen coverage of the troubled auto industry, our state’s high unemployment rate, the shooting of an unarmed college student, and a teenager killed by police using Tasers.

Unfortunately, the latest mention–that a West Michigan school will be one of sixty-two monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–doesn’t help the state’s image.

In today’s edition of USA Today, the newspaper features teacher Terry Babbitt of Norton Shores’ (near Muskegon) Lincoln Park Elementary School. Lincoln Park Elementary was one of several hundred schools identified by USA Today in an investigation last year into air quality in the nation’s public schools. According to the investigation, students at the school might be exposed to high levels of chromium and other toxic chemicals. Babbitt says that he welcomes the investigation

The USA Today investigation prompted the program, which will begin in over the next three months:

“The series prompted the EPA to launch its most comprehensive study ever of the impact of pollution outside the schools. In most cases, the agency plans to install monitoring equipment on school grounds.”

According to an examination of the 62 schools chosen for monitoring, USA Today reports that 28 appear to have air more toxic than the air at Meredith Hitchens Elementary in Ohio. That school was closed after the Ohio EPA found levels of carcinogens 50 times above what the state considered acceptable.

As if general exposure to air pollution wasn’t enough reason to investigate and attempt to remedy the situation, USA Today points out that children are uniquely vulnerable to threats from toxic chemicals because their bodies are still developing and they breathe more air in proportion to their body weight than adults.

Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop “War on Terror” Terminology

Democracy Now Headlines: EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Mining; Pentagon to Drop 'War on Terror' Terminology

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Admin Proposes New Authority to Seize Non-Bank Firms

The Obama administration is seeking Congressional approval for the authority to seize troubled non-banking firms. The proposal would grant regulators powers similar to those of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation over banks. The government could cancel contracts, including bonuses, as well as sell off company assets or debts. Speaking before the House financial services committee Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke said the proposed new authority could have prevented the government bailout of AIG had it been in place. The House Financial Services Committee is expected to vote on the proposal next week.

Obama Defends AIG Response, Pushes Budget

President Obama meanwhile appeared in the second White House news conference of his presidency. Obama was asked about his slow response to news of the AIG bonuses.

CNN Correspondent Ed Henry: “Why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, “Look, we’re outraged.” Why did it take so long?”

President Obama: “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”

Obama meanwhile tempered his previous criticism of Wall Street, saying executives shouldn’t be “demonized.”

President Obama: “Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers’ dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more.”

Obama focused his appearance on touting his $3.6 trillion dollar budget as it heads towards a House and Senate vote. Democratic leaders say they’ve cut hundreds of millions of dollars in spending during committee talks. A vote could come as early as next week. Obama meanwhile offered his first comments on Russia and China’s proposal for a new global currency, saying he’s against the idea.

Bailed-out J.P. Morgan to Buy Luxury Jets

The bailed-out financial giant J.P. Morgan says it’s going ahead with with a $138 million dollar plan on two luxury jets and a deluxe aircraft hanger. The firm has received $25 billion dollars under the taxpayer-funded bailout.

EPA Halts Mountaintop Removal Projects

The Environmental Protection Agency has delayed hundreds of mountaintop coal-mining projects for a new review of their environmental impact. Mountaintop removal has been widely criticized for endangering waters and streams in the Appalachian Valley. The review effectively overrides last month’s federal appeals court ruling that backed the Army Corps of Engineers’ authority to oversee mountaintop removals. Environmentalists had previously won court judgments affirming that the Army Corps violated the Clean Water Act. In a related action, the EPA also announced it will block two projects that had won Army Corps approval. The EPA says the mountaintop removals would have endangered streams in West Virginia and Kentucky with thousands of feet of mining waste.

Probe: Labor Dept. Fails to Safeguard Worker Rights

A new Congressional probe says the government agency for enforcing labor laws has failed to protect workers. In a report set for release today, the Government Accountability Office says the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division hasn’t adequately enforced violations of minimum wage, overtime and other labor rights. The study says agency officials mishandled nine out of ten cases brought by undercover agents posing as workers. Some investigators dropped cases simply because the accused employers didn’t return their calls. Others waited months to respond to worker complaints and then said it would take another several months to act on them. The report says: “Labor has left thousands of actual victims of wage theft who sought federal government assistance with nowhere to turn. Unfortunately, far too often the result is unscrupulous employers’ taking advantage of our country’s low-wage workers.”

Specter Withdraws Support for Employee Free Choice Act

Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has dealt a blow to organized labor, announcing he won’t support the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would stop employers from demanding secret-ballot elections and require them to recognize unions if a majority of workers consented. It’s been fiercely opposed by the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who’ve launched a multi-million dollar lobbying and ad campaign to stop it. Specter had previously signaled support for the bill and its sponsors had been counting on his backing.

Health Insurers Offer to Drop Overcharging for Illness

The nation’s private health care industry has made a new concession in its effort to stave off proposals for a government-run health care program. On Tuesday, the two main health insurance trade groups said they would be willing to stop charging sick people higher fees if all Americans were required to buy insurance. The proposal doesn’t completely rule out continuing charging varying premiums, and would only allow apply to individual customers, not small businesses.

State Rep.: “What’s Medicaid?”

A veteran Republican state representative is coming under criticism for admitting he doesn’t know what Medicaid is. Speaking before a hearing of the Texas state Health and Human Services Committee, Gary Elkins said: “What’s Medicaid? I know I hear it … I really don’t know what it is.”

Obama Admin Backs Ban on Foreign Scholar

The Obama administration has apparently decided to continue the former President George W. Bush’s policy of banning foreign scholars under anti-terror laws. In a federal appeals court hearing Tuesday, a government lawyer argued in favor of maintaining a ban on a prominent Muslim intellectual barred from a teaching job in the United States. The scholar, Tariq Ramadan, was offered a position at the University of Notre Dame in Ohio in 2004. The Bush administration initially barred his entry without explanation and then said it was because he once gave money to a Palestinian charity. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the ban on Ramadan’s behalf.

Pentagon Memo: Drop “War on Terror”

The Washington Post is reporting the Obama administration appears to be dropping the phrase “the global war on terror.” In a memo sent to staffers this week, a Pentagon security official writes: “This administration prefers to avoid using the term “Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror.’ Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.'” An Obama administration official said there has been no official policy change and that the memo solely reflects the opinion of the author. But its directives conform to recent public testimony from senior officials.

Labor Joins Incoming Israeli Government

In Israel, the Labor party has overcome internal opposition to join incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud government. Both the Labor and Likud parties agree on maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land but Likud has more forcefully rejected peace talks. Labor leader Ehud Barak had earlier pledged to stay in opposition if Labor won less than twenty seats in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Labor only won thirteen seats in last month’s election.

Clashes Follow Far-Right Israeli March in Arab Town

In other news from Israel, dozens of far-right Israeli activists marched in Israel’s largest Arab town on Tuesday, setting off a protest from residents that ended in clashes with Israeli police. Mohammed Baraka, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, condemned the march.

Mohammed Baraka: “This attack on the citizens has no other explanation but that the police are used to hit and fire toward the Arabs wherever they are. On the other hand when an extremist group demonstrates against our existence, under the name of freedom, they give them the chance to walk in the streets, protected by 2,500 soldiers and policemen. But the people who came to defend their houses and their existence, are suppressed by the police in a very horrible way.”

South Africa Cancels Peace Conference Following Dalai Lama Ban

South Africa has cancelled a global peace conference following an uproar over its ban on the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama from attending. The South African government has been accusing of caving in to China, one of its largest trading partners. On Tuesday, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, condemned the move.

Mandla Mandela: “It is a sad day for South Africa, it is a sad for Africa and we are a nation that is striving to be a leader in the African continent, to also be advanced as far as our peace initiatives we have in Burundi and Sudan. I am very saddened today to see that someone like the Dalai Lama who all our laureates hold highly, has been turned down on their visa application.”

UN Warns on Darfur Aid

The UN is warning of dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on foreign aid groups in Darfur. Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir expelled thirteen aid groups from Darfur after the International Criminal Court indicted him on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On Tuesday, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said the remaining aid groups are inadequate.

Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes: “While a significant effort is being made by the government, by the UN, by the NGOs which are left to plug some of the immediate gaps in these areas, these are at the same time band aid solutions, if I can put it that way, not long term solutions.”

10 Die in Afghan Bombing

And in Afghanistan, at least ten civilians have been killed and another six wounded in a roadside bombing. The attack targeted a road used by foreign soldiers in eastern Afghanistan.

EPA Rejects Michigan Coal Plant

EPA Rejects Michigan Coal Plant

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rejected a permit for a new coal plant at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

The ruling–issued after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality initially approved the permit–says that the plant has several air quality deficiencies, including problems how it limits sulfur dioxide emissions from its broiler. It further orders the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to start regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.

The permit was the first awarded to one of Michigan’s eight proposed coal plants. The plants have met strong citizen opposition. Governor Granholm has also stated that all energy companies seeking to build coal plants need to reconsider clean energy alternatives before moving forward with the permitting process.

Michigan Clean Energy Now Praises EPA Ruling on South Dakota Coal Plant

EPA Rejects South Dakota Coal Plant Permit, Michigan Groups Happy

Michigan Clean Energy Now is praising the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to reject a South Dakota coal plant because it failed to address pollution and global warming.

In a statement, the organization wrote:

“The EPA last week overturned South Dakota’s approval of the massive Big Stone II coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s objections focus on the state’s failure to require state-of-the-art pollution controls and failure to respond to concerns about global warming pollution.

As the first major move on a coal plant permit by the EPA since President Barack Obama took office, this decision is a clear signal that the dozens of other coal plant proposals in the permitting processes are facing steep headwinds as well – including the four in Michigan that have already begun the permitting process.”

Clean Energy Now says that the rejection of the plant is a promise sign and it is urging the State of Michigan to consider the decision and reject air permits for coal plants proposed for Michigan.

Michigan currently leads the nation in proposals for new coal plants, with seven plants proposed for the state.

EPA says Power Plant Permits can’t take Carbon Emissions into Account

A disappointing–but not entirely unsurprising–ruling from the EPA that permits for new coal-fueled power plants cannot take carbon emissions into account. Activists in Michigan had used an earlier ruling to pressure the state to reject seven proposed plants.

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Over the past year, there has been a lot of opposition to coal-fueled power plants in Michigan from a coalition of environmental groups known as Michigan Clean Energy Now. However, a new ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is likely to disappoint those working to stop the seven coal power plants planned for Michigan.

Last month, the Michigan Clean Energy Now coalition called on the state to stop issuing permits for coal power plants in light of an EPA ruling rejecting a permit in Utah because the plant’s application did not take into account carbon emissions. However, the EPA issued a new ruling Thursday saying that this can’t be done:

“Officials weighing federal applications by utilities to build new coal-fired power plants cannot consider their greenhouse gas output, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency ruled late Thursday. Some environmentalists fear the decision will clear the way for the approval of several such plants in the last days of the Bush administration.

The ruling, by Stephen L. Johnson, the administrator, responds to a decision made last month by the Environmental Appeals Board, a panel within the E.P.A., that had blocked the construction of a small new plant on the site of an existing power plant, Bonanza, on Ute tribal land in eastern Utah.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that the agency could regulate carbon dioxide, the most prevalent global warming gas, under existing law. The agency already requires some power plants to track how much carbon dioxide they emit.

But a memorandum issued by Mr. Johnson late Thursday puts the agency on record saying that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant to be regulated when approving power plants. He cited “sound policy considerations.””

Stephen Johnson is a Bush appointee who has previously been accused of delaying federal action to restrict CO2 emissions.

Obama Picks Browner to be “Energy Czar”

The Obama administration has announced that Bill Clinton’s former EPA Director, Carol Browner, will be the administration’s “Energy Czar.” There has been next to no discussion of Browner’s record or the Clinton administration’s environmental record in the media coverage announcing her appointment.

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On Wednesday, president elect Barack Obama announced that former EPA Director Carol Browner would be head of the new government position that will deal with environmental, energy, and climate matters. Browner was the EPA Director during the Clinton administration and has been advising president elect Obama on environmental and energy matters.

Since leaving the Clinton administration, Browner has joined The Albright Group, “a global strategy firm that works with businesses and organizations to achieve their objectives, improve their returns, and enhance relationships with key stakeholders.” There is no information on The Albright Group’s website about which businesses and organizations they have worked with. The Albright Group was founder by Madeline Albright, who served as Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Browner has also served on the boards of the National Audubon Society, the Center for American Progress, and the Alliance for Climate Protection.

With the announcement of Browner’s appointment, some of the mainstream environmental organizations have responded with optimism. Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said:

“One wonderful face is a familiar one: former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who apparently will coordinate energy and climate within the White House, which is a major step forward and shows that the overall energy and climate portfolio will have strong leadership and attention from the top.”

While these organizations are generally viewed as “liberal” or “progressive” they all tend to agree with the fundamental principles of market capitalism. On December 1, Browner displayed her allegiance to the market by stating (http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2008/12/10/browner-climate-opportunity/) at a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund,

“As a former regulator — and I can cite you any number of stories — when the government steps up and says there’s a requirement, that we’re going to have to take sulfur out of diesel fuel, you’re going to have to get rid of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) by a date certain, what the government is doing is creating a market opportunity.”

More importantly, what the mainstream media have not reported is what her track record was while head of the EPA.

For an excellent resource, we recommend Jeffrey St. Clair’s book Been Brown so Long, It Looked Like Green to Me St. Clair documents that as EPA Director, Browner oversaw some major deregulations of environmental policies such as the hollowing of the Endangered Species Act to loosening of rules on toxic chemicals, policies which opened the door for further deregulation during the Bush years.

According to St. Clair, Browner gutted the Delaney Clause in the Food and Drug Act. This clause placed a strict prohibition against detectable levels of carcinogens in processed foods. Browner also played a key role in allowing the hazardous waste incinerator in Liverpool to open despite the Clinton/Gore campaign’s promise to prevent the plant from opening. Browner also was partly responsible for the negative environmental consequences imposed by NAFTA, particularly how NAFTA regulations affected Mexico.

The book also raises critical questions about the Clinton administration’s environmental legacy. The administration was anything but “green.”

EPA Alleges Clean Air and Hazardous Waste Violations at Dow’s Michigan Facility

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Friday that it has found potential clean-air and hazardous waste violations at Dow Chemical’s Midland, Michigan facility. The EPA has issued a “finding of violation” under the Clean Air Act and a “notice of violation” under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The EPA alleges that Dow Chemical violated the Clean Air Act by “failing to follow regulations aimed at detecting and repairing leaks, as well as failing to conduct a required stack test” and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by violating provisions for managing hazardous waste. According the EPA, these violations may have:

“…increased public exposure to organic hazardous air pollutant emissions including, but not limited to, ethyl chloride, toluene, ethylene, perchloroethylene, methanol and hydrogen chloride. Hazardous air pollutants may cause serious health effects including birth defects and cancer and may also cause harmful environmental and ecological effects. These pollutants are also volatile organic compounds and are major precursors of ground-level ozone (smog).”

The preliminary notice allows Dow Chemical a thirty-day window during which it can meet with the EPA to discuss resolving the allegations. The EPA can also choose to issue a compliance order, assess a fine, or file a lawsuit against the company. Thus far, Dow Chemical has downplayed the violations, suggesting that they are “paperwork” errors.

EPA Declares that 16 Michigan Counties Meet Smog Standard

Earlier this week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that 16 Michigan counties are now meeting the EPA standard for smog. The EPA says that air monitoring data from 2002-2006 shows that the counties–including Kent County–are meeting the standards. While the counties previously were not meeting the standard, the EPA has certified attainment and has approved a plan by the state of Michigan to continue meeting the standards through 2018. Because of the announcement, Kent and other affected counties will no longer be subject to possible emissions tests.